Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 22 July 2018

WATCH: Emotional scenes at Leopardstown as family of Berkeley victim celebrate Ellie Mac's shock 50-1 win

The connections of Ellie Mac celebrate winning on St Stephen's Day
Photo: INPHO/Bryan Keane
The connections of Ellie Mac celebrate winning on St Stephen's Day Photo: INPHO/Bryan Keane
The connections of Ellie Mac celebrate winning the race Photo: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Melanie Finn

Melanie Finn

Leopardstown races got off to a galloping start today as thousands of festival fans snubbed the sales in favour of a flutter.

It was a particularly emotional start to the annual four-day event for one racing syndicate after 50/1 outside Ellie Mac romped home to victory in the first race of the festival.

It's owned by a racing club that was set up in memory of the late UCD student Niccolai Schuster, who died in the 2015 Berkeley tragedy.

There were jubilant scenes in the parade ring after the mount was first past the post in the Horse & Jockey Hotel Maiden Hurdle.

Niccolai's father John described it as "the greatest day of our lives" since the tragedy.

"My son was a great racing fan and we decided at a party to put a racing club together – there was no shortage of neighbours, friends and we had support from all over the world," he said.

Niccolai's mother Graziella said that their son's favourite sport apart from football was horse-racing.

"He loved the Christmas festival here and what a way to star," she said.

Meanwhile, there was plenty of festive cheer and seasonal style for the opening day of this year's Leopardstown Races. 

The annual event got off to a strong start with the favourable weather ensuring a lively turn-out. 

Damien Donfield and Anne Madden from Dublin at the Leopardstown Christmas festival.
Photo: Tony Gavin 26/12/2017
Damien Donfield and Anne Madden from Dublin at the Leopardstown Christmas festival. Photo: Tony Gavin 26/12/2017
Aoife Nugent and Eimear Casey from Armagh at the Leopardstown Christmas festival. Photo: Tony Gavin 26/12/2017

Crowds started pouring through the turn-styles from early on as they took the chance to catch up with friends and family while trying to pick a winner from the race-card. 

Although celebrities were thin on the ground this year for the Stephen's Day event, U2's guitarist the Edge did make his usual appearance at the Pavilion hospitality area, where it costs a mere €200-a-head for lunch.

He was accompanied by his wife Morleigh as they enjoyed a bird's-eye view of all the racing action from their window-side table.

However, there was no sign of his bandmate Bono, who hasn't attended the day in recent years. He was spotted hanging out at a restaurant in Dalkey at the weekend but opted against making the trip to the southside track. 

Also there was former Indiana Jones actress Alison Doody, who was there with her equally-stylish friend Aisling Gleeson as they headed in to the hospitality area. 

One late arrival was colourful property developer Johnny Ronan, who was casually dressed for the occasion in a pair of blue jeans and black leather jacket.

When it came to the fashion fans in attendance, floppy fedoras and micro-minis seemed to be the order of the day, with a particularly youthful crowd coming for day one of the festival.

Friends Amelia Madden and Siofra Murray from Dun Laoghaire said they come every year "for the fashion and the dressing up."

"We probably will put a bat on at some stage. We're meeting up with friends later," said Amelia.

Making their debut at the festival were pals Sophie Kennedy and Julie-Anne Mulcahy from Tallaght who were certainly dressed to impress.

"We heard it's brilliant. Everyone was talking about it so we thought we'd give it a go this year," said Sophie.

The feature race of the day dominated attention on the track, with the Racing Post Novice Steeplechase being won by the Willie Mullins-trained mount Footpad.

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